Before Big Papi brought the crowds to their feet with his huge left-handed swing, there was the Hit Dog.
Mo Vaughn was back in town last week to be inducted into the Red Sox Hall of Fame. The first baseman spent eight seasons with the Red Sox and was the 1995 American League MVP. Vaughn left as a free agent after a contentious final two years with the team, then battled injuries while playing for the Angels and Mets.
Now he is managing director of Omni New York LLC, which buys, renovates, and manages properties for low-income families in New York. The company is planning its first construction project in the Boston area in 2009.
TC: Youíve said things had gotten to a point in your relationship with the Red Sox that you had to leave. You canít change history, but as time has gone on, how do you look back on your time in Boston?
Vaughn: People want to talk about it being a business, and it definitely is. I just thought the relationship was fractured so severely that it was never going to be repaired. It was just time to move on regardless of what I knew I was losing or anything. Looking back, it was a great time here. This organization gave Mo Vaughn the name that he has. So Iíll always be appreciative of that.
TC: The injuries happened to you quickly after you left. Once you fell down those dugout stairs in Anaheim in 1999, it seems like physical problems started piling up.
Vaughn: The first play of the year. The first foul ball of the year, and my career was in a downward spiral since then. You want to know why things happen, but you never can tell. Youíve got to move on, and luckily Iíve been able to move on to another life.
TC: You have. Why not just relax? You made a lot of money in the game, why not take it and head to the golf course?
Vaughn: I really wanted to do something impactful with my life. I saw the concept in Columbus, Ohio. I brought it back to my lawyer, who is now my partner, Eugene Schneur. We were able to work with Mayor Bloomberg down there, and he catapulted us into our first couple of deals. Itís doing well, itís snowballed. Pretty much since 2004 weíve acquired and rehabilitated over 2,500 units. We do our own management, our own construction, our own development. This is a big process. I wish my knee didnít hurt, because itís definitely tougher in the business world than it is as an athlete. Weíve got a good thing going here. Even up here now, we are in the process of hopefully closing on three deals to come into the Boston area. Hopefully this closing will be November 18. Then Iíll be up here working out of Roslindale and Jamaica Plain. Iíll be up in March doing our construction. Itís good to be doing something here, too.
TC: A lot of people said this wouldnít work.
Vaughn: Let me tell you something. Everything is a learning experience. I played here in a very, very tough media market. I made my mistakes when I was here. I went 0-for-14 here in the playoffs with the weight of the Red Sox on my shoulders. All those things are learning experiences for the business world. When somebody says athletes can be businessmen, theyíre right. Itís the same concept. You have to have the same type of mentality and the same type of attitude. Nobody thought we could do what we do, but we keep pushing them. Weíre very aggressive. Youíve got to go out and make things happen.
TC: Youíve actually purchased and rehabilitated a building that your idol, Jackie Robinson, built when he owned a construction company after his playing days.
Vaughn: Itís in Westchester County, in Yonkers, a place called Whitney Young Manor. Itís funny, I learned about the history after.
TC: You didnít know it at the time?
Vaughn: Didnít know it at the time. I found out later that Jackie Robinson passed away there. We owned that building, improved it, the whole nine yards.
TC: You wore number 42 in his honor. Heís always been an important character in your life.
Vaughn: Heís the reason why Barack Obama gets elected. Heís the reason why the integration of anything and anybody has happened.
TC: Youíve heard this before, but weíve all seen some similarities between you and David Ortiz. The big, left-handed upper-cut swing. Youíve watched him winning those World Series. Is it hard not to put yourself in that spot and wonder, ďwhat ifĒ?
Vaughn: No, no. Of course, I see myself in him a lot. But I only see myself in the ways that can help him. We have a good relationship. We talk all the time. But in terms of what if, you move on past that. When we won that World Series in 2004, the weight of everything was lifted off of all of us. It was a great thing. We could walk around and be proud that we played this long in Boston and did what we did. I was happy. I was pulling for them. I couldnít believe that final game in New York, and after that I just knew the momentum was going to roll right through.
TC: Ortiz had to keep going without Manny Ramirez behind him. You know what itís like to be the hitter that an opposing pitcher looks at and says, ďIím not going to let him beat me.Ē How tough do you think that was for David Ortiz to be going through at times down the stretch?
Vaughn: Itís tough, but you have to understand that and respect that. Youíve got to use that wall. Thatís the main thing. Use that wall. Thatís how I lived and did well here.
TC: Everyone thinks itís a right-handed hitterís ballpark, but Fenway can be pretty good for lefties.
Vaughn: Itís built for lefties. You come off the road 0-for-16, you just use that wall and youíre right back where you need to be.
OT contributor Tom Caron is the studio host of Boston Red Sox broadcasts on the New England Sports Network